Many prominent speakers, authors, pastors, etc. in the Christian community have rightly denounced nominal “Christianity” as simply a culturally acceptable, religious philosophy rather than true Christianity – the way of Jesus. However, because the church itself emphasizes the religious service rather than the development of depth in our relationship with God and others, it is natural to be a religious spectator rather than an active participant. Unfortunately, the solutions offered to combat this prevailing mindset often seem to still lack the authenticity and Spirit-shaped character that we long for. Let’s examine one prevalent solution to our problem.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” – Matthew 16:24
Often we hear that true Christianity is about sacrifice, self-denial, extreme lifestyle changes, etc. and we are vigorously urged to increased effort for the sake of Jesus. The idea is that you will prove that you are a true Christian by your actions. You will also hear that “a tree is known by its fruit” and “faith without works is dead” – reiterating continuously the same message that if you aren’t producing good works, you are likely a fake and not a real Christian. There has been a substantial push of this kind of thinking for many years but we still seem to have the same kinds of problem with nominalism in our churches. Is there a better way or are we doomed to always be chasing after an experience that we will never grasp?
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28
The problem with this theological framework is that it implies that God is demanding, never satisfied, harsh, and primarily concerned with our behavior. While there are many passages in the scriptures that display God’s holiness – his uniqueness, majesty, perfection – over and against the gross state of humanity – rampant atrocity, narcissism, unbearable pain and injustice – we cannot lose sight of the vision that God himself has given to us of a loving father. Jesus himself is the embodiment of divinity – God in humanity – and this was said about him: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1.17).
We do not need to be told to do more for Jesus; instead, we need a renewed understanding and experience of his love and grace. Only when we are confident that he loves us regardless of our continued mistakes will we be able to step out and take our place on the altar as “living sacrifices”. Until then, any sacrifice of our time, energy, or resources will be tainted by either self-promotion or appeasement and will not be acceptable in his sight.
How do you think we should respond to nominalism within the church?